21. Memorandum of Conference with the President1

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  • Secretary McElroy, Mr. Coolidge
  • General Goodpaster

Mr. Coolidge outlined three charts, one showing the present structure of the Department of Defense, one showing in simplest outline the proposed new structure, and the third elaborating on the second.

In the discussion which resulted, the President said he thought that unified commanders should have the same disciplinary authority over personnel of all services that they have over their own service component. He also thought that the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the unified commanders should be commissioned in the armed forces of the United States. Mr. Coolidge said that the group working with Mr. McElroy had felt that this arrangement was suitable for the three- and four-star officers, subject to certain safeguards which have to be worked out, but there is question regarding officers of two-star grade and lower. In the discussion, it was not completely clear whether the proposal related simply to the members of the JCS and the unified commanders, or to members of their staffs as well.

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Mr. McElroy said that the unified commanders who had appeared before his group had said that they did not wish to take on the court martial responsibility for personnel of the other services. The President said that the requirements in war and peace are quite different. Negotiation and action through cooperation is all right in peacetime where time is not of the essence, but would not work in war. He did not think the system should be subjected to change at the onset of war; consequently, we should have in peace what we need in war. Mr. Coolidge said that General Twining is now making a study to assure that the unified commander is given the same authority over personnel of the other services that he has over his own component.

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Mr. Coolidge said that the group has found a great deal of difficulty in deciding where to put research. One alternative is to set up a Defense Research Institute at the same level as the JCS. Another would be to set up a fourth department, paralleling the Army, Navy, Air Force. In any case, a Director of Research would allocate tasks to the services and control the funds available to them. The President said the weakness today is decentralized authority resulting from provision of law or seizure through having money voted directly to the services.

Mr. Coolidge said that the group had not settled on titles for the heads of the services but are inclined to favor a title of Deputy Secretary of Defense for the Army, etc. They were strongly of the view that the Vice Chief of Staff of each service should take on added responsibilities of his own. The President indicated he had had some question about the “Deputy Secretary” solution, but that the idea of putting the Chief of Staff in the JCS and having service operations performed by the successor to the Vice Chief of Staff gave some desirability to the use of the “Deputy Secretary” title. He said that there is substantial reason why the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should have some control over their respective services.

Mr. Coolidge said that there is probably a lot to be gained through straightening out the organization within the respective services but the present group feels that they should not try to get into this. The President indicated general agreement with this view.

The President advised Mr. McElroy and Mr. Coolidge to be very careful on the research arrangement. Mr. Coolidge said they are thinking of having all research funds appropriated to the Secretary of Defense. Mr. McElroy added that they may decide to recommend having all funds appropriated to the Secretary of Defense.

Mr. Coolidge reported that the group agreed the Chairman of the JCS should be in charge of the assignment of work to the Joint Staff. The President spoke in favor of making the staff an integrated staff. Mr. Coolidge said that, at least for the operations section, this would be done. The President also said that he thought the lower level committees in the [Typeset Page 85] Joint Staff structure should come out. Mr. McElroy said they are planning to drop out the committees, at least on an experimental basis.

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Mr. McElroy said they are also planning to recommend eliminating the service “roles and missions” from law, and the President enthusiastically endorsed this action.

The President referred to a plan announced by Mr. Vinson and other Congressmen yesterday. It showed considerable signs of being a reversion to a three-department setup. He thought that if the authority of the Secretary of Defense were thus reduced the position would be untenable and should be abolished. In that case, the result might be that Congress would also be organized in comparable committees.

The President indicated some question regarding the element called the “Joint Secretaries.” Mr. McElroy said that there will be many problems of personnel, administration and procurement which will require coordination. He reiterated that research is a great problem. The President advised them to talk with Dr. Killian, and Mr. Coolidge said they are trying to arrange a time to get together. The President said he rather liked the idea of the Defense Research Institute.

In summarizing, the President said that the essence of the matter is to establish the power of the Secretary of Defense to get things done and to go into everything that needs corrective action. He suggested that the group get their thoughts into the most simplified form possible—one that could be put out to the public should there be a decision to do so.

A.J. Goodpaster
Brigadier General, USA
  1. Source: Department of Defense reorganization. Confidential. 3 pp. Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DDE Diaries. Drafted on February 28.